Overthinking can get seriously ridiculous and really harmful…
Are you an overthinker? I certainly have been in the past and, at times, still am today. It’s highly likely that if you’re aged anywhere up to those middle ages, 40’s and 50’s etc, (apparently older generations don’t tend to overthink so much) that you have had at least a small amount of experience with overthinking, if not a bucket load of it. Whether it’s overthinking that little comment from your friend or overcomplicating your entire life, rumination, as it’s officially called can be very damaging to us and our mental health.
‘Rumination’ is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as ‘the act of thinking carefully and for a long period about something’. Though, psychologists tend to specify the definition more as thinking for a long time on causes and problems, in a negative way, in worry and fear rather than positively on solutions. Overthinking is illogical, unhelpful, unproductive and ultimately, harmful. It is a modern-day disease that is plaguing our society, the younger generations in particular.
Rumination has been found to impair problem-solving skills, which makes ruminators less likely to take action on a possible solution, makes them more pessimistic about the future, and pretty much guarantees a bad mood. In fact, those who ruminate develop major depression at four times the rate of those who don’t ruminate.
Scientific American – Toxic habits: Overthinking, Ellen Hendriksen
The effect that overthinking has on our problem solving and productivity is directly damaging the thing that we are overthinking. Think about it, (not too much) when we overthink it’s normally about something that we consider to be a problem in some way. Productivity and problem solving would be of great help to us in overcoming these issues yet our overthinking nullifies them and blinds us to our natural solutions.
It also damages our health. Worrying and stressing over things is very detrimental to our sleep, which is, in turn, is very detrimental to our physical and mental well-being. Overthinking has lots of little negative knock-on effects such as this, that fall like dominoes in our day to lives. Though, perhaps it’s worst consequence is what it takes from us.
Overthinking can be very draining, as we divert all of our mental energy to thinking about this one issue that’s trapped in our minds. Putting all this mental effort unconsciously inwards, cuts us off from life and the people around us, as we have no time for anything else but the problem we’re facing. We might be physically in the room but we’re certainly not mentally there, we’re stuck in our heads, living out all the possible scenarios we will face when this problem goes as bad as it possibly could go, because of course, it will go that badly, any sense of logic and reasonableness is out the window here. All this mental panic, saps our energy, leaving us feeling down and low, perhaps even depressed or anxious.
So why do we do it? Why even “Ruminate” in the first place? It’s not like we enjoy overthinking, we don’t like worrying or stressing, so why? The answer is fairly straightforward actually.
So many of us are just completely out of control.
Mentally that is, we are mentally out of control, continuously living our lives in the unconscious and therefore have no say in what we are thinking. We live in a reactionary state, allowing our internal thoughts and feelings to be completely determined by our external world, rather than controlled from within and influenced from without. Meaning that our brains have no leash, nothing to rein them in when they’re spiralling out of control. So thoughts pile on top of each other, thoughts upon thoughts upon thoughts upon thoughts, drowning our minds and suffocating our lives.
That is the main reason that we overthink, certain other factors will play a role, the chaos of modern-day life, the huge amount of choice we have, society in general. Though, when it comes down to it, we overthink because we allow ourselves to. We let our minds spiral out of control because we exist unconsciously.
Imagine that you have a hollow head from the eyes up, now fill that head with water but not all the way up, fill it about halfway. Now imagine how much that water would splash around in your skull every day, with every movement you make. Each turn of your head, each step on the ground would send that water splashing and spluttering everywhere. This is comparable to an unconscious mind going about its day. Loose, thoughts pouring in and out without ever truly grasping them firmly in your mind, like water running through your fingers.
To stop overthinking, to be able to truly grasp our thoughts and think clearly, we have to become mentally conscious. This allows us to still the pool of water in our heads, to calm the chaos in our minds.
When we become conscious, we begin to take control of our thoughts. First through awareness and then through choice and action. Being conscious of what we’re thinking quickly turns into informed self-analysis and observation. With our newly clear minds, we can see how ridiculous some of our overthinking is when it arises and simply stop it there. As we continue to practice consciousness, we gain further control over our minds and become far less prone to overthinking, in the process becoming far less reactionary. We begin to think and feel based on a solid, healthy internal, that is subtly influenced by the external. We develop a clear perception of life and how the mind works, meaning we almost never spiral into rumination. Consciousness is the way out of overthinking and in fact, the way out of almost all mental illness.
To develop this consciousness we must practise. Mindfulness and meditation are ways of being that will ensure we are practicing consciousness. There are separate articles on both those topics here, Mindfulness, Meditation. We also have a page for each topic on the site with some practical tips you can follow, access these from the site menu. Practice these two ways of being and you will witness overthinking fade from your mind.
I’ll leave you with the second definition of rumination given by the Cambridge Dictionary, as food for thought.
‘the act of bringing up food from the stomach and chewing it again’
Cambridge English Dictionary
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For some further reading, this is a great article on overcoming overthinking.